When the afternoon session of the India Open began at the KD Jadhav indoor stadium in New Delhi on Wednesday, the first match on court three did not get a lot of cheers but it did catch some eyeballs. Not because the top seeded pair in mixed doubles Wang Yilyu and Huang Dongping were playing but because of their opponents – Misha (30) and Svetlana Zilberman (60), the mother-son duo.
The pair were not expected to win against the Chinese pair and they did not – losing the opening round match 8-21, 3-21 – but the Zilbermans were relieved that they were able to make the journey to India.
Hailing from Israel, Misha has faced troubles travelling to many countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, which do not recognise the state of Israel
“I face problems when the tournaments happen in Malaysia, Indonesia or any Arab countries,” Misha says. “They do not give visa to me and I cannot participate in those competitions.”
It’s a problem Misha and his mother have been facing for a long time. Back in 2015 when he applied for a visa to participate in Malaysia Superseries, he was denied. He is disappointed that nothing much has changed in the last four years.
“Sports should be away from politics. Next week in Malaysia the Masters series is there but I cannot go. I know they will not give me the visa. No chance. Some other sportspersons from Israel also try but they were also denied. No matter how many times you apply, it’s the same result,” he says.
Recently, Malaysia did not allow Israel’s Paralympics swimming team to enter the country to participate in the World Para Swimming Championships in July. The country was later stripped of the hosting rights by the Paralympics Committee.
To compensate for the lost time, Misha and Svetlana will directly head to Singapore for the next world tour event. It is also the country where the duo usually train outside Israel.
“We go to Russia or Singapore. BWF also tries to help me and they do their best but it’s not easy. And then badminton is not popular in Israel,” he says.
Misha was introduced to the sport by his mother at the age of 12. She was a former national player for Soviet Union and won a bronze medal at the 1986 European Championships.
After beginning serious training at the age of 14, Misha began playing tournaments in Israel and went to to become the national champion. But a with dearth of quality partners, he found it difficult to practice. That lack of partners was also one of the reasons why he began playing with his mother.
“I just have the juniors to play with. There are no other partners so it becomes difficult. I can get more match practice if I play mixed doubles and it all helps.”
Despite the unfavourable situation, Misha became the first badminton player from the country to qualify for the Olympics in London and in Rio Games, he became the first player to win a match.
He now hopes that his contribution to the game will inspire the younger generation of shuttlers in his country.
“More players are coming and if I can reach this level, they can too. It can give motivation because the sport is not big and there are no tournaments.
“Until you go to the top 75 in the world ranking there is no support from the national federation or the Olympic committee. So first you need to invest a lot in yourself and then get the results,” he says.
With the mixed and the men’s singles campaign over for Misha – he lost to top seed Viktor Axelsen 13-21 16-21 in the last match of the day – the focus shifts to the competition in Singapore which will serve as the preparation for European Games later this year.
“It depends on my singles calendar. We will play in European Games in Minsk later this year. We hope we can win because that is all that matters.”